German parenthetical inserts

In German and English, parenthetical inserts are used to provide additional, clarifying information or examples in cases in which a freestanding sentence would be inappropiate. However, there are often marked differences between the usage of parenthesis in German and English, particularly when it comes to the enumeration of examples. While parenthetical examples in English are typically of a substitutional nature or extend naturally as a subclause of the main sentence, in German one often finds examples that are not directly substitutional, in which the precise relationship to the main sentence must be deduced. Although this sort of parenthenthetical insert can be considered poor style in German, one encounters it with great frequency.

The following sentences are not atypical in German and demonstrate the point quite well:

EXAMPLE 1
German: “Abschließend gehen wir auch davon aus, dass sich Deutschlands Ausgaben für multilaterale Entwicklungsprogramme zugunsten Afghanistans (UNO, NATO, EU, Weltbank) erhöht haben.

English translation: “Finally, we assume that Germany’s expenditures for multilateral development programs that benefit Afghanistan (UN, NATO, EU, World Bank) have increased.”

EXAMPLE 2
German: “Am Arbeitsmarkt muss alles dafür getan werden, dass die günstige Arbeitsmarktentwicklung nicht durch neue Regulierung (Zeitarbeit, Mindestlöhne) gefährdet wird.

English: “Everything must be done to ensure that the favorable development of the labor market is not endangered by new regulations (temporary work, minimum wages).”

As one can see from the sample sentences above, the items listed in paranthensis are examples, yet the precise relation to the remaining sentence is simply not clear-cut. In the first sentence, of course, one would assume initially that examples of “multilateral development programs” are being enumerated – until one realizes that these are in fact organizations that would administer such programs. For this reason, the translation above certainly violates standards of usage in English.

Similarly, in the second sentence, the items stated in parenthesis would appear at first to be examples of regulations – but they are, more precisely, examples of areas in which regulations might be instituted.

In both cases, a few small adjustments suffice to remedy the stiltedness of the direct translations above.

EXAMPLE 1:
“Finally, we assume that Germany’s expenditures for multilateral development programs that benefit Afghanistan (such as those administered by NATO, the UN, EU, World Bank, etc.) have increased.”

EXAMPLE 2:
English: “Everything must be done to ensure that the favorable development of the labor market is not endangered by new regulations (e.g. concerning temporary work, minimum wages).”

The larger point illustrated by these examples is that there are unavoidable structural discrepencies between German and English. Clearly, the translator must play a proactive role in filtering and reshaping the contents of the source text in order to arrive at an adequate and readable translation. Rote word-for-word translations cannot be charaterized as “faithful” if they dishonor the intended meaning of the source text, disregarding the ways in which the reader will process the presented information.

One thought on “German parenthetical inserts”

  1. Lucais: this is really good stuff and I greatly admire your efforts to help Germans to understand that “Germanized” English is not really what they want when they hire you to translate for them. The problem–as we have discussed before–is that many Germans can Speak reasonably good English but not really know how to Write really good English. This causes many of your clients to expect
    a “rote”, word-for-word translation, not realizing that you are faithfully translating the true meaning of a German sentence into its English equivalent. A good example is the letter your recently wrote saying, “It was nice meeting you”, and the client complained, saying, “We never had a Business Meeting!”

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